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At a Glance

  • There are two types: forest and city
  • Use water, chemicals, and tools to put out fires
  • Work in teams
  • Wear specialized safety gear and equipment
  • Work days, nights, weekends, and holidays
  • Train through classroom and practical courses
  • Are in good physical shape

Career summary

Firefighters put out fires and rescue people who are in danger.

Fire fighters who parachute into wildfire areas may be called smoke jumpers.


Firefighters work to put out flames and embers. Firefighters take training courses to keep their skills up to date. They take part in fire drills and demonstrations of firefighting techniques. They may give talks to the public, especially schools, about fire prevention and what to do in case of a fire.

Duties vary by type of firefighter. There are two types of firefighters:

City firefighters

City firefighters respond to fire alarms and other emergency calls. They drive and operate firefighting vehicles and equipment. When they get to the scene, they assess the situation. They report the information to their superior and receive instructions. Firefighters set up a zone to keep people away from the fire area. They use a hose to spray water or chemicals onto the fire.

Firefighters may need to create openings in buildings to get ventilation or to enter the building. They use tools such as:

City firefighters may set up and climb ladders to get to upper levels of buildings or to rescue people. They protect property from water and smoke damage by using special equipment. They remove glass, pump out water, and ventilate buildings to get rid of smoke. They inspect buildings for fire hazards and safety violations.

Firefighters in an air-crash emergency spray foam onto the airport runway. They put out the fire and rescue crew and passengers. They give first aid and CPR to victims.

Firefighters keep firefighting equipment, vehicles, fire hydrants, and the fire station in good working order.

Forest firefighters

Forest firefighters put out fires in forests and rangelands. They drive or may be flown by airplane to the site of the forest fire where they parachute from the aircraft toward a landing area near the scene of the fire.

Firefighters figure out the best way to fight the fire. They communicate with people in airplanes or at the base camp using a two-way radio.

Forest firefighters cut down trees, clear brush, and dig trenches to contain fire. They use tools such as:

Firefighters put out flames and embers using shovels or pumps. The pumps use water or chemicals and may be hand- or engine-driven. After the fire is out, forest firefighters patrol the burned area to watch for hot spots that may restart the fire.

Related careers

This career is part of the Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to firefighters.

Common work activities

Firefighters perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, firefighters:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Firefighters frequently:

It is important for firefighters to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for firefighters to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Firefighters need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a firefighter, you typically need to:

City firefighters:

Firefighters must be at least 18 years old. You must pass tests of strength, endurance, coordination, and agility. You also must pass a medical exam and a drug-screening test. You may have to pass a written test. Some of the best preparation you can do is get into excellent physical condition.

Wildland firefighters:

The ability to live and work outdoors is an important requirement for forest firefighters. Many firefighters work for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Forest Service. You should contact these agencies around December 15 for an application to work for them the following summer. Individuals who successfully complete their first season of employment are eligible to be rehired the next year.

Education after high school

Taking courses in fire science may improve your chances of getting a job. Some community colleges offer courses in fire science, fire protection engineering, or fire control. Depending on the school, you can earn a two- or four-year degree in these areas. It is becoming more common for cities and municipalities to require that you complete some college course work before getting hired. It is also common to require that firefighters have a college degree or complete equivalent coursework in key areas, such as chemistry and writing. However, wildland firefighters typically need only a high school diploma.

Some fire departments have apprenticeship programs. These programs take up to five years to complete.

Some states have firefighter training and certification programs.

On-the-job training

Most firefighters are trained by their employer. The length of training varies, but generally lasts at least one year.

You receive both classroom and practical training. Most importantly, you learn firefighting techniques and prevention. You also study local building codes, emergency medical procedures, and hazardous material control. In addition, you learn to use firefighting and rescue equipment. After successfully completing this training, you join a fire company. You then undergo a period of probation.

Firefighters constantly study and train. You practice to keep your skills sharp and to learn new equipment and skills.

Military training

Some branches of the military train people to be firefighters. Training lasts seven to 11 weeks, depending on your specialty. Additional training occurs on the job.

Washington apprenticeships

In Washington, entry requirements into firefighter apprenticeships may vary by individual programs. Requirements may include the following:

For further information on apprenticeships in Washington, contact:

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries
Apprenticeship Program (external link)

PO Box 44530
Olympia, WA 98504-4530

Helpful high school courses

You should take a general high school curriculum that meets the state's graduation requirements. You will be required to take both math and science classes to graduate.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Applicants for firefighter jobs must pass a written exam and tests of physical strength, stamina, and agility. They also must pass a medical exam that includes drug screening. Exams are generally open to people who are at least 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Those who receive the highest scores have the best chances of getting a job.

Employers look for mental alertness, courage, and a sense of public service. Employers also look for initiative and good judgment. Because crews work closely together, firefighters should get along well with others.

A few employers require a year or more of firefighting experience.

While fire control training is not required, preference is given to applicants with training or experience. In addition, employers look for people who have self-discipline and are dependable.

City fire departments may follow civil service hiring practices or develop their own. For civil service jobs, applicants take various exams to be placed on a list of qualified applicants. Cities without civil service jobs often require oral exams and physical agility exams that may include running, climbing, carrying hoses, and other activities directly related to fire control. Some city fire departments require workers to be at least 21 years old at the time of hire.

#Statement about 21 years of age for city position is requirement of City of Tumwater, for example. CJ 4/21/04.


Visit a fire station and ask questions about the job. Join a local fire department as a volunteer. Take courses and become a certified emergency medical technician or paramedic (see emergency medical technicians). An associate degree in fire science may be helpful for some jobs. Maintain a good work and driving record and character references. It is helpful for applicants to do physical fitness activities to develop leg and upper body strength. Fire fighters who respond to large forest or rangeland fires should be prepared to work up to 30 hours at a time, hike long distances over difficult terrain with a heavy pack, and work with little food or rest.

#Tip comment about working on range or forest fires from Spring or Summer(?) issue of NW Homes and Lifestyles 2005 (related to Journal of Business), & added by CJ 3/28/06.

Costs to workers

Some fire fighters have to buy uniforms. Some may also be required to join a union and pay an initiation fee and monthly dues.


Many newly hired fire fighters receive emergency medical technician (EMT) training. Some fire departments require their workers to be EMTs. EMTs are certified by the Washington State Department of Health.

Certification requirements include:

For more information, contact:

Washington State Department of Health
Office of Emergency Medical Services and Trauma System (external link)

PO Box 478577
Olympia, WA 98504-7877

Links to regional offices can be found on the website shown above.

#Changed contact to main cust svc info per website; rest ok, 4/11/16 cj. Info ok 3/28/18 cj. 2/26/19 lh

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Firefighters (SOC 33-2011)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $15.34 $28.29 $36.15 $43.53 $49.60
Monthly $2,658 $4,903 $6,265 $7,544 $8,596
Yearly $31,910 $58,850 $75,200 $90,530 $103,160
    Bellingham Hourly $26.71 $30.06 $35.63 $40.77 $47.90
Monthly $4,629 $5,209 $6,175 $7,065 $8,301
Yearly $55,553 $62,530 $74,111 $84,804 $99,640
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $23.75 $27.94 $34.48 $40.70 $47.48
Monthly $4,116 $4,842 $5,975 $7,053 $8,228
Yearly $49,395 $58,110 $71,726 $84,647 $98,740
    Clarkston-Lewiston Hourly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
Monthly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
Yearly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $18.14 $28.20 $32.91 $39.64 $47.71
Monthly $3,144 $4,887 $5,703 $6,870 $8,268
Yearly $37,729 $58,642 $68,466 $82,451 $99,253
    Longview Hourly $25.99 $31.58 $36.35 $39.85 $41.94
Monthly $4,504 $5,473 $6,299 $6,906 $7,268
Yearly $54,050 $65,695 $75,619 $82,886 $87,247
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
Monthly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
Yearly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $12.07 $22.24 $34.77 $40.75 $47.73
Monthly $2,092 $3,854 $6,026 $7,062 $8,272
Yearly $25,086 $46,253 $72,328 $84,759 $99,278
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $27.81 $35.00 $41.32 $48.28 $54.01
Monthly $4,819 $6,066 $7,161 $8,367 $9,360
Yearly $57,855 $72,800 $85,952 $100,424 $112,334
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $18.26 $26.65 $33.52 $38.35 $43.73
Monthly $3,164 $4,618 $5,809 $6,646 $7,578
Yearly $37,984 $55,431 $69,731 $79,781 $90,947
    Vancouver Hourly $27.74 $34.81 $42.16 $47.55 $50.83
Monthly $4,807 $6,033 $7,306 $8,240 $8,809
Yearly $57,710 $72,405 $87,694 $98,904 $105,726
    Walla Walla Hourly $12.28 $14.29 $29.97 $35.71 $38.74
Monthly $2,128 $2,476 $5,194 $6,189 $6,714
Yearly $25,557 $29,729 $62,343 $74,285 $80,591
    Wenatchee Hourly $13.17 $14.39 $16.45 $34.91 $39.52
Monthly $2,282 $2,494 $2,851 $6,050 $6,849
Yearly $27,399 $29,918 $34,215 $72,602 $82,207
    Yakima Hourly $13.21 $15.72 $28.81 $36.57 $41.11
Monthly $2,289 $2,724 $4,993 $6,338 $7,124
Yearly $27,477 $32,705 $59,922 $76,053 $85,495
United States Hourly $12.10 $16.21 $23.85 $32.26 $42.75
Monthly $2,097 $2,809 $4,133 $5,591 $7,409
Yearly $25,170 $33,720 $49,620 $67,100 $88,920

(1) Wage estimate is not available.

Wages vary by employer and the firefighter's schedule. Firefighters are paid overtime if they work more than a certain number of hours a week. Firefighters who belong to a union usually earn more than non-union firefighters.

Firefighters usually receive benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, and a retirement plan. Fire departments provide protective clothing and breathing gear to their workers. Many also provide dress uniforms.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

In Washington, the outlook depends on continued population growth in outlying communities, economic conditions, and public financial support.

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Fire Fighters (SOC 33-2011)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 7,825 11.2% 16.1% 712
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 489 12.1% 13.4% 45
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 285 13.0% 8.6% 27
    Benton and Franklin Counties 250 4.4% 15.0% 18
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 500 10.0% 11.9% 44
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 371 11.1% 15.2% 33
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 605 10.9% 14.1% 54
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 496 11.3% 14.6% 46
    King County 2,417 12.2% 19.6% 226
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 460 10.7% 13.8% 41
    Pierce County 828 10.5% 15.2% 74
    Snohomish County 752 11.3% 12.4% 68
    Spokane County 635 12.4% 13.9% 59
United States 332,400 5.3% 5.2% 25,000

National employment

Firefighters work in many settings. These include urban and suburban areas, airports, and chemical plants or other industrial sites. They also work in rural areas, where they protect grasslands and forests.

Major employers:

National outlook

Growth in this occupation is expected to be about as fast as average. Firefighters will continue to be needed to respond to fires and medical emergencies. However, turnover is low and layoffs are uncommon.

People who are physically fit, have fire fighting education, or paramedic training will have the best job prospects.

Other resources

International Association of Fire Fighters (external link)
1750 New York Avenue NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006
International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services (external link)
1707 Ibis Drive
Buffalo, MN 55313
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, AFL-CIO (external link)
25 Louisiana Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20001
National Fire Academy (external link)
16825 S. Seton Ave.
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
National Fire Protection Association (external link)
1 Batterymarch Park
Quincy, MA 02169
US Fire Administration (external link)
16825 South Seton Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
Washington State Fire Fighters Association (external link)
1910 East 4th Avenue
PMB 117
Olympia, WA 98506-4632
Washington State Fire Fighters Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (external link)
1405 SW 312th Street
Federal Way, WA 98023
Washington State Patrol Fire Training Academy (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupations

O*Net job zones (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational clusters